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Impersonal you and stance-taking in social research interviews

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2012
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Journal number10
Volume44
Number of pages13
Pages1206-1218
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The pronoun you is prototypically used to refer to the addressee or addressees in an interaction, but it also has other uses, including a kind of impersonal reference that does not pick out any particular person, but is the equivalent of someone, anyone, or one. This paper focuses on how the shift to an impersonal you works in one genre of interaction, research interviews by academic social science researchers, where the participants often use you where the previous turn might have projected the use of I or they. We argue that the shift, and related cues of the dimension of specific vs. general, can be seen as a form of stance-taking. We explore three possible functions: (1) recategorising of the speaker and their category-associated experiences, (2) displaying perceptions as shared, not merely individual, and (3) invoking commonplaces to deal with dilemmas posed by the question. These rhetorical actions can be related to the demands of the research interview, with the interviewee claiming or disclaiming an entitlement to have a stance, supporting their stances against possible challenge, and giving accounts or resisting judgments of the interviewee's behaviour or views. Attention to these shifts can make social science researchers more aware of the interactions underlying the transcripts.